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Soviet Jews to Be Pressed to Go to Israel, Cabinet Decides

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From Times Wire Services

Israel’s Cabinet voted Sunday to force Soviet Jews emigrating with Israeli visas to travel directly from the East Bloc to the Jewish state to prevent them from settling elsewhere.

In May, more than 90% of the Jews who left the Soviet Union with Israeli exit visas “dropped out” during stopovers in Vienna and emigrated to other countries, primarily the United States, displeasing Israeli authorities who want refugees with visas to Israel to live in the Jewish state.

The Cabinet at its weekly Sunday meeting voted 16-2 with 3 abstentions “to ensure that Soviet Jews who request exit visas for Israel do in fact arrive directly in Israel,” Cabinet Secretary Eliakim Rubenstein said.

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The Cabinet announced no effective date for the new policy, but there have been indications for weeks that it was already being implemented on an unofficial basis.

As long ago as April, Jewish sources and Western diplomats in Moscow reported that Israel had changed its procedure for issuing invitations to Soviet Jews wishing to emigrate. These sources said that the primary change was that official invitations were now stipulating that Israeli visas should be picked up from the Israeli Embassy in Bucharest, Romania--the only nation in Eastern Europe that maintains diplomatic relations with Israel.

Here in Jerusalem on Sunday, Immigrant Absorption Ministry spokesman Gad Ben-Ari said that, most likely, Soviet Jews would be issued Israeli visas only if they traveled through Bucharest.

‘Vienna Means the U.S.’

“There won’t be a situation where a Jew with an Israeli visa goes to Vienna, because Vienna means the United States,” Ben-Ari said.

“We’re not opposed to Jews emigrating where they want. We’re not happy about it. But a Jew that has an Israeli visa will be able to come to Israel only.”

The United States has said it opposes any limitations and supports emigrants’ freedom of choice in selecting a new homeland.

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A senior U.S. Embassy official said Sunday that the decision appears to contradict the U.S. position.

“I’m convinced there is no coercive element in the decision,” Immigrant Absorption Minister Yaacov Tzur told Israel Army Radio. “Jews who want to come to Israel will come to Israel. Those whose relatives are in the United States and want to go there, a way will be found.”

May Reduce Influx to Israel

Emigration activists said the decision may reduce the influx of Soviet Jews to Israel.

The Soviets grant exit visas for the United States and other countries only to those Jews with immediate relatives in those countries. The requirements for emigrating to Israel are more liberal, Ben-Ari said.

Ezer Weizmann, a minister without portfolio who voted against the measure, said he opposes “administrative arrangements that will coerce Jews to come to Israel who do not want to come.”

“The state of Israel was created so that Jews could come to it by their own free will,” he told Army Radio. “The problem is why Israel is not an attractive enough country . . . so that Soviet Jews will decide to come here.”

The Cabinet said in a statement that it “decided to act, in the framework of legal means available, (so) that Jews who ask for an exit visa from the Soviet Union in order to come to Israel would indeed reach Israel directly.”

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Aimed at ‘Dropouts’

Israeli officials say the decision is aimed at boosting Soviet Jewish immigration and reducing the number of “dropouts”--Jews who prefer to go to the United States and other Western countries instead of Israel.

Between Jan. 1 and June 1, out of 4,681 Jews who left the Soviet Union with Israeli visas, 871 arrived in Tel Aviv. Most of the others opted in Vienna to go to the United States.

Many Soviet Jews decide not to come to Israel because of difficulties in finding employment and housing. Israeli officials say that if immigrants have the chance to live in Israel, they will want to stay. About 170,000 Soviet Jews live in Israel.

“No one here thinks we will force people to live in Israel,” Tzur said. “Israel is an open and democratic country and everyone can move from Israel to other countries.”

Automatic Citizens

But once they arrive in Israel, the Soviet Jews automatically become Israeli citizens under the 1952 Law of Return and lose their refugee status that allows immediate entry into the United States.

Top Israeli officials have tried to persuade the United States not to grant refugee status to Soviet Jews with Israeli visas, arguing that the emigrants have a country that will accept them.

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Israeli officials estimate that of the 2 million Jews in the Soviet Union, about 400,000 want to emigrate, although only 40,000 have applied to Soviet authorities for exit visas.

Last year, the Soviets allowed 8,011 Jews to leave.

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